Reza Aslan, author of the newly released book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, rejects the “clash of civilizations” theory that pits East against West, Muslim against Jew or Muslim against Christian, in a never-ending struggle. He argues that what is taking place in the Muslim world is an internal conflict between Muslims, not an external battle between Islam and the West.
Speaking with Carol Castiel, host of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Reza Aslan said that terrorist violence, which has begun to engulf Europe and the United States, represents a “spillover” of the internal conflict among Muslims. According to Mr. Aslan, the internal clash within Islam over reconciling its traditions and values with the realities of the modern world has been going on for nearly 150 years – that is, from the time of colonialism.
Reza Aslan said that what “reformist,” or “modernist,” Muslims need to do is to return to the “principles of Islam,” to the original community created by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina and endowed with his “sense of morality, pluralism, and egalitarianism.” According to Mr. Aslan, it was a society where men and women had equal status under the law and where there were no ethnic boundaries between people. He said he finds it ironic that the “fundamentalists,” or “extremists,” also say that Muslims need to take Islamic society back to the time of the Prophet. Although Mr. Aslan agrees with politicians who think we are involved in a war of ideology, he believes only Muslims using the “tools of Islam” can combat an ideology of “hatred, fanaticism, and bigotry.”
Reza Aslan says the primary question is who gets to interpret Islam, and for 14 centuries that interpretation has been the exclusive right of a small group, the ulema, or in the case of Iran the “clerical hierarchy.” According to Mr. Aslan, Iran has perverted Shi’a Islam, which was founded on “open debate, rational conjecture, and social justice.”
Mr. Aslan said the West’s extensive media coverage of savage attacks by Islamic terrorist groups has inadvertently given such groups an aura of power and dominance that they do not have in the larger worldwide Muslim community. And although moderates represent the vast majority of Muslims, they lack access to the kind of media attention given to the extremists. Mr. Aslan noted that most Muslims, like most Jews and Christians, are “normal people” who struggle with their faith and try to raise their children correctly and don’t want to be embroiled in a theological battle with extremism. Nonetheless, because their traditions have been used to promote despotic and terrorist ideologies, Reza Aslan said, Muslims have a responsibility to stand up and say, “This is not Islam.” And, furthermore, those who represent the “beautiful, eclectic array of Islam” need to make their voices heard.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.